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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » SH to J »

Eje and Axle

The Spanish eje for “axle” comes from the Latin for the same, axis. The English axle comes from the same common ancestor as the Latin axis, the proto-indo-european root *aks– also meaning the same.

The Spanish eje is easy to understand if we remember that most of the x/sh/ch sounds in Latin and the ancient languages became the throat-clearing -j- sound in Spanish. Thus, the e-j of eje maps to the a-x of axle pretty clearly.

It’s interesting how such a simple word has remained mostly unchanged for tens of thousands of years. Perhaps, the axle is one of the most fundamental discoveries in human history. It is, after all, what led to the wheel, which led to… civilization.

Jeringa – Syringe

Jeringa, Spanish for Syringe, sounds like it has nothing in common with its English counter-part. But they are literally the same word.

The Latin sh- sound often evolved into the j- sound in Spanish — originally retaining the sh- sound but eventually, under Arabic’s influence, transforming to the throat-clearing sound we know and love.

This explains how both jeringa and syringe derive from the same root: the Latin siringa, itself from the Greek syringa. The sy- sound is a variation of the sh- sound and therefore the sy-r-n-g of syringe maps to the j-r-n-g of jeringa.

Jugo and Suck

One of our favorite patterns of sound change between English and Spanish is the sh/j shift: under the influence of arabic, many words that had a “s” or “sh” or “sy” or “ch” sound in Latin, started to be pronounced with the throat-clearing sound and written with a “j”. See sherry/jerez and chess/ajedrez or syrup/jarabe, for example.

Another example of this pattern is the Spanish word for “juice”, jugo. It comes from the Latin succus meaning, “juice” (particularly sap, or juice from plants).

From this Latin root succus we also get the English… suck.

Yes, if it sucks — it is juicy! Literally!

We can see the mapping in the s-c to j-g mapping. The “c” and “g” sounds are similar and often interchanged.

Interestingly, in Spain they do not say jugo to mean “juice”; instead, they say… suco. Suco, funnily enough, also comes from the same root of succus. It is just the variation that never underwent the arabic “j” transformation.

From the same root we also get the English succulent, although we do not get the superficially similar English juice, which comes from the Latin ius, meaning, “sauce.”

Enojar and Annoy

Enojar, Spanish for “to get angry”, has a fun cousin in the English, annoy.

Both of these (along with the French for “worldly boredom”, ennui) come from the Latin inodiare, meaning, “to hate”. The Latin in- adds emphasis to the odium, Latin for “hate”.

We can see the parallels in all with the open vowel, followed by the -n-, followed by a -y- sound, although in Spanish the -y- sounds (and its corresponding -x- and -sh- variations) often turned into the -j- sounds, as it did here. Thus, the a-n-y maps to the e-n-j.

Hatred, then, dissipates and weakens over time. In English, hatred weakens into mere annoyance. In Spanish, hatred weakens into just anger, enojo. And, best of all, hatred in French weakens into a world-weary boredom of ennui.

Ajedrez – Chess

Ajedrez (Spanish for “chess”) sounds nothing like the English chess, so they can’t be first cousins… right?

Wrong. The Spanish “j” sound — pronounced with an Arabic-ish throat-clearing sound — was originally pronounced with a “sh” or “ch” sound. The arabic influence changed the pronunciation to be closer to the arabic: see sherry/jerez, for example.

Ajedrez and Chess are another example of this same interesting pattern. Try to imagine the “j” in ajedrez with a ch- sound and you almost get chess.

Both, curiously, come from the same Sanskrit word for the game: chaturanga (so the English ch- is thus preserved closer to the original sound — English didn’t have the arabic influence that Spanish did). And these came to both languages via the Persian, chatrang. The traders and travelers, after all, are the ones who change languages.

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